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Comparing Outcomes for Injured Workers in Wisconsin

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The Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) has studied interstate comparisons of key outcomes achieved by injured workers in Wisconsin and fourteen other states, part of a multi-year effort by WCRI to collect and examine data on the outcomes of medical care achieved by injured workers.

Wisconsin workers reported higher rates of return to work, lower rates of problems accessing medical providers, and higher rates of satisfaction with medical care. (Note: Wisconsin still maintains employee choice of doctors for post-injury care, despite some legislative efforts proposed for an employer-directed care, i.e., an employer panel of doctors.)

The study found the average rate of physical health and functioning was similar across all fifteen states. Wisconsin workers reported higher rates of return to work than workers in the other states. Ten percent of Wisconsin workers with more than a week off never returned to work within a year compared to fourteen percent and seventeen percent in most of the other states. On average Wisconsin workers had returned to work about ten weeks after the injury, which was in the middle range of the study states.

Six percent of injured workers reported earning "a lot less" at the time of their return to work compared with the time of injury, similar to the average in the other states studied.

Access to medical care. Wisconsin workers were less likely to report problems obtaining their medical services. Only 11% of injured workers in Wisconsin reported they had significant problems obtaining the services they needed, which was among the lowest in the study states (lower or somewhat lower than all the other states in the report). Additionally, almost 85% of Wisconsin workers said they were satisfied with their overall workers' compensation medical care (with only 10% saying they were very dissatisfied). This dissatisfaction rate was the lowest of the study states.

WCRI compared the medical costs and outcomes in Wisconsin, trying to analyze tradeoffs between worker outcomes and medical costs. They expected to find that when medical costs for an injury were higher compared with other states, workers in the higher cost state should experience better outcomes for that injury. When WCRI compared the outcomes reported by injured workers and costs of medical care, it found Wisconsin medical costs per claim were among the highest of the study states, yet workers reported higher rates of substantial return to work, fewer problems obtaining desired services and providers, and higher satisfaction with overall medical care.

Compared with Wisconsin, injured workers in other states found similar rates of problems obtaining medical services but longer duration of time before return to work. The analysis did not aim to identify specific system features in workers' compensation that impact outcomes, only highlighting how worker outcomes varied across the states. It did not examine whether differences in workers' compensation policies explain different outcomes. Future WCRI studies may answer how worker outcomes differ across different system features - such as employer choice of physician, fee schedules, etc. (The other states in the study were Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.)

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